HAVERHILL — With Haverhill public schools facing a potential cut of $2 million in state aid, the School Committee has asked Gov. Charlie Baker to abandon a formula that would cause the cut.
The committee said the formula is based on "artificially low" enrollment numbers caused by the pandemic.
The committee said it expects enrollment to bounce back in the fall and, if that happens, the formula will leave Haverhill schools $2 million short of what they need to operate.
A letter to Baker signed by all members of the School Committee — including its chairman, Mayor James Fiorentini, plus School Superintendent Margaret Marotta — says they are concerned about how the formula used by the state budget for fiscal year 2022 which starts in July gives out Chapter 70 money to communities.
That formula uses the Oct. 1, 2020, public school enrollment figure — a number the School Committee's letter says was lowered by the pandemic but will increase in the next school year.
"We believe most, if not all, of the 264-student drop in enrollment for Chapter 70 purposes will return for the 2021-22 school year," said School Committeeman Rich Rosa. "Because Chapter 70 funding does not account for the expected increase in enrollment (in the coming school year), the Haverhill School Committee is forced to vote on an FY22 budget we know will not serve the additional hundreds of students who will return to our schools."
Total enrollment in Haverhill schools has grown by about 1,000 students from the 2012-2013 school year through the 2019-2020 year. That enrollment figure dropped, however, by 264 students in 2020-2021 — the year being used by the state to determine how much Chapter 70 money will come to communities, the School Committee's letter says. Kindergarten students made up more than a third of that drop in Haverhill, the letter said.
Rosa said that if the state uses the lower enrollment figure to calculate Chapter 70 aid money for the coming year, Haverhill schools will lose more than $2 million in state funding.
The committee's letter told Baker that his budget uses the same deflated enrollment figures to calculate how much Student Opportunity Act money is sent to communities by the state. Urban school districts like Haverhill, which need that money the most to close achievement gaps between students, will also be unfairly short-changed of those funds if the lower enrollment figures are used, the letter says.
The School Committee told Baker that the pandemic has taken a toll on students, families, teacher and school staff, and cited a number of reasons not to reduce Chapter 70 money for the district.
Those reasons include kindergartners who in the fall will enter first grade behind students from pre-pandemic years, making the early literacy gap between those two groups of students difficult to close; many students requiring a full range of social-emotional, mental health and tailored supports to recover from the disruption in their academic and personal lives caused by the pandemic; English language learners likely experiencing delays in acquiring language skills; and special education students needing services to offset regression of learning skills and knowledge.
In addition, the letter says, as schools recover from the pandemic educators will need support and training to recognize students’ needs and refer children to appropriate support systems in schools; districts will have to invest more to develop contact with students' families and have interpreters and translators available; and school districts will need money to create smaller class sizes and academic programming, and hire staff such as adjustment counselors and nurses.
The loss of learning caused by the pandemic — especially among the most vulnerable students — is severe, and the amount of state money available to help students catch up must accurately reflect the needs statewide, the letter told the governor.
The letter urged Baker and the state Legislature to determine amounts of state aid money given to communities based on Oct. 1, 2019, enrollment — the number before the pandemic.
"To do otherwise will have a lasting detrimental effect on Haverhill’s children and children across the Commonwealth," the letter said.